Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is an eating disorder where people tend to eat very large amounts of food (called binging) and use inappropriate means to rid their bodies of the food (called purging). This cycle of binging and purging is used to prevent weight gain. Bulimia may lead to other problems, including:

  • Dental and throat problems from stomach acid that rises during vomiting
  • Changes in body chemistry and fluids due to vomiting and abuse of laxatives or water pills

Factors that may contribute to this condition include:

  • Cultural bias toward thinness
  • Changes in the level of brain chemicals
  • Emotional stress
  • Disturbed self-image


Behavioral symptoms include:

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food at one time
  • Feeling like eating is out of control
  • Making yourself throw up
  • Taking laxatives, enemas, water or diet pills
  • Exercising excessively
  • Having dramatic changes in mood
  • Having symptoms of depression
  • Having difficulty controlling your impulses
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs

Physical symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain and heartburn
  • Menstrual problems
  • Swollen cheeks and jaw
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Bloating
  • Stained or chipped teeth due to contact with stomach acid
  • Cuts or scars on back of hands from scraping skin on teeth during forced vomiting

Diagnosis & Treatment

Your doctor can diagnose you with bulimia through:

  • Physical and psychological exams
  • Blood tests
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • Drug screening

Treatment aims to stop you from binging and purging and focus your self-esteem away from body weight and shape.

Nutritional Support

A dietitian can teach you how to follow a healthy diet and create reasonable weight and calorie goals.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be very effective, especially when combined with medicine.


Antidepressant drugs can be effective in helping to reduce binging and purging.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.